It may seem counter-intuitive. You join a karate dojo to learn fighting techniques, and you get married (presumably) because you love someone. Kung Fu practitioners kick boards and their mouths don’t match their dialogue, while married couples have babies and stop going clubbing. But matrimony and the martial arts have a lot in common. Both are highly stylized, ritualized forms of combat best done in loose clothing—but it goes even deeper than that. Here are five things marriage and the martial arts have in common.
1.) It ain’t like the movies, grasshopper.
You’ve seen countless kung-fu flicks and you want to be as awesome as Bruce Lee or Michelle Yeoh. You’ve watched a million romantic comedies so you know the meet-cute, the snappy dialogue, and the three-act story arc. What the movies don’t show you is the tedious, mundane bullshit you have to go through when you’re doing this for real. Before you master the Dim Mak Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, you’ll throw a million bad punches at nothing, stand for hours in uncomfortable stances, and do push-ups (push-ups!) or other pedestrian exercises. Likewise, when you’re married you still have everyday life to live—laundry, mowing the lawn, earning a living. Your conversations lose the zip when you’re talking about your budget for the umpteenth time.
2.) Practice doesn’t make perfect—but you have to do it.
There’s a point to all that repetitive, boring practice, though. It makes you better and stronger, but (and this is the catch) only if you STICK WITH IT. It’s painful, it makes you sweat, it wears you out, and the worst part is that there is no perfection, not in martial arts and not in marriage. It’s tempting to think you have learned enough and slack off, to coast on the skills you already have. Then one day you’re ambushed by a dozen ninjas or a menstrual cycle gang, and your skills are rusty or forgotten and you get curbstomped. Think about that the next time you feel like skipping a workout or watching a football game instead of going antiquing.
3.) You can do everything right and still get your ass kicked.
Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Your form is excellent, you’re alert and ready, you’re a tenth dan black belt-- yet somehow a foot catches you in the side of the head, literally or emotionally. Spouses or sparring, it takes two to tango, and other people are unpredictable. Have you ever watched the outtakes at the end of a Jackie Chan movie? That guy is highly skilled AND he knows what’s coming next, but he STILL gets creamed a dozen times every movie by something he didn’t expect. You can’t hope to do better, so what should you do when you get flattened?
4.) You take your lumps and learn from them.
You’re on the mat in a fetal position, felled by a spinning back kick you never saw coming. Or you’re on the sofa in a fetal position, kicked clean out of your bed by an argument you couldn’t win. In both cases, this seems like an excellent time and reason to give up, throw in the towel, pack it in. Go ahead, quitter. Or you could let the pain subside, figure out what went wrong, and FIX IT. It’s the harder path, no question, and it’s no time for self-delusion, but if you’re strong enough to change your technique you will become a deadlier fighter…or lover.
5.) When it’s done right, it appears effortless.
Watching the masters at work, every movement, every technique seems inevitable and natural. They make it look so easy. So do the strongest couples. You can’t imagine them struggling, arguing, making mistakes—but for everything you see, those masters and couples made a sacrifice, putting in years of hard work, sweat and practice into their relationship or their kata. You could be that good—all you have to do is snatch the pebble from my hand and then work at it every single day for the rest of your life, grasshopper. Then one day, without even realizing it, you will become the master…or the old married couple everybody envies. Only then will you have mastered the Exploding Heart. In a good way.